Iran leader repeats challenge to debate Bush at UN

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TEHRAN, Sep 16 (Reuters) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad challenged US President George W Bush to a debate on global issues at a UN summit in New York, state TV reported today, repeating a call rejected by Washington last year.

''I had suggested holding a debate. I am saying again that let us discuss global concerns at the (UN) General Assembly in front of representatives of other nations,'' Ahmadinejad told state television.

The White House rejected Ahmadinejad's last year call for a presidential debate, calling it a ''diversion''.

Ahmadinejad is due to visit New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September. It will be his third visit since he took office in August 2005.

During his interview with the state television, Ahmadinejad also condemned US policies in the Middle East, including Iraq.

''I am ready to hold talks with Bush on important global issues at the assembly,'' he said. ''Let us hold talks about Iraq and other issues. Then public opinion will judge ... We will offer our global solutions.'' The United States severed relations after Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the US-backed Shah.

Washington accuses Shi'ite Muslim Iran of providing funds, arms and training to Iraqi Shi'ite militants and of supporting terrorism across the Middle East. Iran denies the charge and blames the US-led invasion in 2003 for the bloodshed between Iraq's majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Arabs.

Tehran and Washington have held talks in Baghdad to find ways to restore security there but ties are still very strained.

They are also at odds over Tehran's disputed nuclear work.

The United States accuses Iran of covertly trying to build nuclear arms under cover of a civilian programme. Iran denies this, saying it needs the technology to generate electricity.

Iran has so far refused to halt sensitive nuclear work, despite US threats to ratchet up pressure with new UN sanctions. Two rounds of sanctions have already been imposed.

''Of course we will not abandon our right to nuclear technology,'' Ahmadinejad said. ''We have obtained the technology to enrich uranium. We are at industrial level. Why should we abandon our activities?'' Washington is leading a drive for a third sanctions resolution. World powers are set to meet in Washington on September 21 to discuss a new resolution.

Reuters RC VP0310

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